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You Are What You Eat: How Food Affects Your Mood

We’ve all heard the saying before – you are what you eat, and around mid-afternoon most of us are a 16.oz cup of coffee looking for a mid-afternoon boost. The average person can discern between which foods are good for them and which foods are bad for them. However, we may not always know which foods are best, and we might not be fully aware of how the bad food is negatively affecting our mood and brain activity. 

The Big Three

Let’s start off with the basics, here are 3 important nutrition rules/guidelines that help with improving your mood.

1) Eat Enough, But Not Too Much

Stop for a moment and think about how food affects your mood. If you are like most people, you may feel tired after a big meal (a.k.a. food coma). This is caused by an increase in your blood sugar levels and a decrease in orexin (a brain chemical that controls your alertness). Or in the words of Will Ferrell “it gets the people going”! 

 And on the flip side, when you’re extremely hungry and your blood sugar levels start to decrease, more-primitive regions of the brain start to take over and you become “hangry” (and for those who aren’t “hip” to the new lingo, “hangry” is hungry + angry combined, because when you’re hangry the less words the better). Eating enough to keep blood sugar stable, but not so much that it rises too high, is important for mood maintenance. The quality and quantity of the nutrients available in your food also go a long way toward determining our emotional resiliency and stability.

2) Eat Often Enough

When you eat is as important as what you eat! Research has shown that breakfast is really and truly the most important meal of the day. (Yes your mother was right) People that skip breakfast are much more likely to deal with fatigue, memory loss and food cravings throughout the day. The best way to fuel you brain and keep it tip-top shape is to spread out your food intake more evenly throughout the day, starting with breakfast.

3) Avoid These Foods

So! Quick science lesson here: A balanced mood requires a balance in the levels of neurotransmitters and hormones that have a strong influence on your mood and mental state, and maintain a positive chemical balance. This nutrients found in whole foods like naturally occurring fats, proteins, vegetables, nuts and seeds, make them positive foods for your brain. Foods that are bad for your brain and can cause a chemical imbalance include:

  • Sugar and Refined Foods - Refined foods decrease your body’s ability to maintain balanced blood sugar levels, and in result affects your energy levels and mood. Refined sugar also decreases your body’s ability to handle pain. If you are eating a lot of sweets, you will likely feel that headache or back pain quicker and more intensely.
  • Caffeine - You may use caffeine to wake you up or give you a boost, but when you constantly hit up the Starbucks line, you are decreasing your body’s production of serotonin (which is a neurotransmitter that affects mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, and some social behavior).
  • Dairy - Dairy is one of the top 5 food allergens. An allergy to a certain food like the dairy found in milk, cheese and butter can cause symptoms such as anxiety, attention deficit disorders, fatigue, gas, headaches, irritability, and joint pain.
  • Additives and Preservatives - Artificial colors and flavors such as yellow and red dyes, and MSG, along with other additives and preservatives are also called ‘excitotoxins’ because they excite your brain’s neurons to be overly active, and can even cause them to die. Consuming these additives over years has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases and mood disorders. These artificial flavors and preservatives have even been banned in some countries!

Foods To Boost Your Mood

So you’ve heard about what not to do, now let us share with you what you should do! Here are the foods that boost your mood and can get you going! We have 5 vitamins and nutrients that are great for your brain, and we listed some foods that are rich (contain high amounts) of these vitamins and nutrients (some of which are on our menu for this week)!

1) Omega 3 Fatty Acids - According to a study by the Pittsburgh Medical Centre, omega 3 fatty acids are not only good for your heart, but also your mental health. The Pittsburgh scientists linked low levels of omega 3 to depression and impulsivity. In addition to lowering your cholesterol levels, eating omega 3 rich foods may also improve your mood. These include:

  • Wild Caught Salmon
  • Walnuts
  • Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, and Hemp Seeds
  • Egg Yolks
  • Mackerel, Sardines, Herrings and Ancovies

2) Thiamine (Vitamin B1) - A lack of thiamine, also known as Vitamin B1, has been linked to a poorer mood. Those with a Vitamin B1 deficiency can feel fatigued and less confident. However, this condition is very rare and easily avoided, as thiamine occurs in many whole, nutrient dense foods including:

  • Potatoes
  • Eggs
  • Oranges
  • Asparagus
  • Liver

3) Folic Acid - It is common knowledge, that pregnant women and those trying to conceive should take folic acid supplements. What most people are unaware of is that a lack of folic acid can have a negative impact on your mood. Those struggling with eating disorders or taking medicines which inhibit folic acid absorption are at risk. Foods rich in folic acid include:

  • Nuts
  • Citrus Fruits
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Kale

    4) Iron - Your body needs iron to produce hemoglobin, a chemical that’s responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the rest of your body. An iron deficiency does not only result in a lack of oxygen in your blood and inner organs but can also leave you feeling depressed and lethargic (or sluggish). Eating these foods to supply your body with all the iron it may need:

    • Meat, Poultry and Pork (Grass-Fed & Pastured)
    • Liver
    • Sardines
    • Broccoli
    • Pistachios

    5) Water

    You’ve probably seen the Snicker’s commercials with the line that goes “you’re not you when you’re hungry”. Turns out it’s the same for water! Our body is made up of anywhere between 60-70% water. So it goes without saying, “you aren’t you when you’re thirsty”!

    When researching the effects of dehydration on the human body, scientists discovered that in addition to having headaches and feeling fatigued, dehydrated subjects experienced changes in mood. Especially females seemed to suffer emotional side effects when dehydrated, felt anxious and were unable to concentrate. You should not wait until you feel the physical impact of dehydration that is thirst, drink pure, filtered water regularly.

    Connecting Your Diet to Your Mood

    It can be difficult to connect your diet to your mood. What if you ate something two days ago that is causing your depression, stomach pain or headache today? It can take up to four days for a specific food to affect you or clear the body.

    To better understand your eating patterns and how they affect your body and mood, keep a food-mood diary. Write down what you eat and when. Write down how you feel as well. Not only will you start to see patterns of your food habits, you will start to see if something is negatively affecting your health. 


    Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com

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